Call to Constitutionally enshrine “wild law”

RMIT ecologist Peter Fisher has called for an amendment to enshrine environmental protection in the Constitution. He proposes recognition of the rights of plants and animals, with the following text: “The Commonwealth of Australia celebrates the wondrous ecology of Australia, the value of its land and surrounding seas, and recognises the right of species to exist in a sustainable way in all its natural regions.” The South African Bill of Rights includes a human right “to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations”; Fisher’s idea is an example of wild law, which goes further in extending legal rights to other species.

Debate over free speech and new Tas abortion protest ban

Constitutional law experts disagree about whether a Tasmanian law would be struck down by the High Court. The Reproductive Health (Access to Abortions) Act 2013 establishes “access zones” prohibiting protests “within a radius of 150 metres from premises at which terminations are provided”. Michael Stokes of the Unitersity of Tasmania says that because the ban on protests is total, “[t]he provision breaches the freedom of political communication and is therefore outside the powers of the parliament”. The University of Melbourne’s Adrienne Stone disagrees, because “the protection is conferred on only political communication relevant to federal politics” and abortion law is a matter for the States. At this stage, the debate is theoretical; no challenge to the law has been announced.

Palmer says Tas Electoral Act unconstitutional

The Palmer United Party has been accused of breaching Tasmanian electoral laws by publishing the names and photos of political opponents without their consent. Clive Palmer said the law “was only directed at people who published, printed or distributed, and of course our party has not printed, published, or distributed anything—it’s all been done by the Hobart Mercury“. Palmer may have a point: while some rules extend to people who “permit or authorise another person to publish” material, section 196 is narrower. However, a letter sent directly to voters by Palmer also apparently breaches the law. He declared: “I intend to write another one tonight you know, because nobody is going to stop me as a Member of the House of Representative having a dialogue with the Australian people.” He suggested the High Court’s decisions on freedom of political communication would protect him: “There’s no legal problem. Any first-year lawyer can tell you that. You’ve only got to read the high court judgments on it and you’ve only got to read the Act.”

Plain packaging fight didn’t end in the High Court

In 2012, the High Court ruled that the Gillard Government’s laws mandating plain cigarette packaging were constitutionally valid. However, the tobacco industry has taken the dispute to international arbitration, arguing that restrictions on the sale of cigarettes are in breach of Australia’s free trade agreements. According to Mike Seccombe, these costly dispute-settlement procedures “have become a means by which big corporations, and often the home countries of those big corporations (notably the United States) seek to subvert the national sovereignty of other countries.” He says that as a result, many countries, including Australia, are questioning whether arbitration processes should be included in future trade treaties.

Constitution gives Tasmania extra MPs

Section 24 of the Constitution requires the number of House of Representatives electorates in each state to be “in proportion to the respective numbers of their people”—with the exception that there be a minimum of five MHRs from each state. NSW Senator-elect David Leyonhjelm argues that this is undemocratic: because Tasmania’s population growth has been very slow since federation, “while each federal electorate in NSW has about 95,000 voters, in Tasmania there are fewer than 70,000”. He says the five member minimum should be abolished, and “respect for the principles of equality before the law and one vote one value should be embedded in the Constitution, giving Tasmania the same representation as other Australians.”